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Unwelcome in the Hood
George Yi
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When I was about 9 years old, my father bought a candy store in Bay Ridge, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My family worked in the store and lived there too. I used to sleep in a small room in the back.

Knowing that we were about the only Chinese family in the area, I expected mistreatment from the people around there. Most of our new neighbors were Italian and I had heard rumors that Italians didn’t really like Asians. I expected to live lonely and remain a prisoner inside the store.

Then, about a week after we’d moved in, I saw two Italian kids sitting on a stoop around the block. They approached me and greeted me nicely. We became good friends; in fact, they were my best friends at the time. We’d play all day long with our G.I. Joes and Superman toys and have fun. I felt no racism from these kids or their parents. They made me feel welcome. For the two years I lived there, I was content.

When I was 11, my dad told me that we were going to move again. I agreed to go with him to look at the new house one weekend, to see how I liked it. We took the train to 225th Street in the Bronx. The neighborhood, located near the Hudson River, was calm and serene. It seemed as if the only thing I could hear was the water floating by.

I saw our new house and its front yard. It looked very appealing. Inside, there were three different rooms, all large, at least much larger than the store space. I liked the place and its quiet environment. I wanted to live there. My dad let me go for a walk to explore the neighborhood. I went down to the corner grocery store and found a group of older black teenagers hanging around on the street. As I passed them, I heard one of them say, “Ch-nk.”

I was infuriated. I wanted to punch one of them, but I refrained. I wasn’t afraid of them; I just didn’t want to throw the first punch. I continued walking but my fists were ready for action. Suddenly, a younger black boy, about 6 years old, came up to me and started talking to me in a fake Chinese accent. He muttered a lot of gibberish. That got me really mad. Why do people have to make fun of someone’s language just because they don’t understand it? I wanted to hit that kid so bad; I wanted to punch him till he hit the floor. But I didn’t. I maintained my composure and walked past him as if nothing had happened.

I was not prepared for this. I had never been insulted that way before. When I got home, I decided not to tell my parents. I thought about it and decided it was a personal matter. I also didn’t want them to worry about me. But that walk changed my perception of the neighborhood from a tranquil place to a place where racism was in your face. During the move from Brooklyn to the Bronx, I felt pain. As I carried box after box into my new home, I felt the life drain away from me.

Life in the new neighborhood was frustrating. I felt alone and left out. I was constantly confronting racism and stereotypes. It seemed like every time I passed some black teenagers, I saw expressions of hatred for me on their faces.

One time at the train station, on my way to school, I saw three towering black figures standing in my way. I said, “Excuse me.” They slowly moved away but gave me a really mean look—as if I had physically hurt their parents. As I walked away, they turned around immediately and started to talk that fake Chinese gibberish. I walked up the stairs to the elevated train station and didn’t turn back. They kept taunting me and trying to make me angry. When I didn’t respond, they spoke louder. I just kept walking with an empty feeling in my bones.

It was upsetting that I had to live in a neighborhood that didn’t accept me because of my skin color and facial features. Every time I walked through the streets, I felt my blood pressure rise. So, every chance I got, I tried to leave the Bronx to go somewhere else. Since I went to school in Manhattan, I would stay there or go to a schoolmate’s house.

image by Joseph Vega


One day, a year after I had moved to the Bronx, I decided to do something different. It was a very nice day out and none of my school friends wanted to do anything. So, I decided to walk around the neighborhood. I was determined to ignore the racist people and have fun.

I walked down 225th Street and entered a pizza shop. The pizza smelled good and fresh, so I decided to buy a slice. Inside, I saw a bunch of black and Hispanic teenagers getting slices and playing arcade games in the back. I ate my pizza and headed for the back room to play a game. The other teenagers gave me a deep stare as I approached the machines. I saw one black kid playing Street Fighter II, one of my favorite games, so I decided to challenge him. ‘Would you mind if I join in?” I asked.

He responded, “No. No problem.” I inserted my quarter. The two of us ended up playing for hours, until we ran out of money.

Although we were game fighting, we were also making friends. I asked him his name, and he responded, “Andrew.” After that day, we continued meeting at the pizza place, bringing more and more quarters each time. After a while, we decided to do other things together, like bike riding. We would race distances of up to 20 blocks without stopping, not even for cars. We rode around until day turned to night.

Andrew respected me. He never made fun of me or insulted my race. He even supported me at times when other people disrespected me. One time when Andrew and I were walking near my house we saw two black kids, one older than me and one younger (I think they were brothers). Andrew quickly stood in front of me as we approached them. The boys started to speak the gibberish that was supposed to sound like Chinese. Andrew said, “Shut up. Don’t you got something better to do than insult a Chinese kid?” They shut up and didn’t speak another word. I was glad to know that someone was my right-hand man for a change.

After getting to know Andrew, I met other black and Hispanic kids around the parks and the arcade. We all got along just fine. I finally felt welcome in my neighborhood. On weekends, I would go hang out with my new friends, play at the arcades, and ride my bike through the streets. I no longer had to choose between staying trapped in my house or leaving the Bronx. I felt more free and more lively. Some teenagers around the neighborhood still made racial remarks to me, but it didn’t bother me as much anymore. I knew that not everyone was against me.

After three years of living in the Bronx, my family moved again. Now, I live in Chinatown. Sometimes it feels like a safe haven, living in a mostly Asian neighborhood. I immediately felt like I belonged.

After the way I was harassed when I first moved to the Bronx, I developed a stereotype that all black people were bad and looking for trouble. I’d see some black kids walking around and think that they were looking for some Chinese kids to pick on. Day after day, I would expect to hear insults and fake Chinese accents from people who didn’t know me.

It took my friendship with Andrew to show me that not all black people fit that stereotype. I’ve learned that you can’t let a few bad experiences turn you against a whole group of people. You have to keep an open mind.

Although I haven’t kept in touch with my friends in the Bronx, I have made new friends, of all races, at my school. I’m glad that I’ve gotten to know some black and Hispanic people firsthand instead of just hearing stereotypes about them from my Chinese friends. It gives me a better perspective on the world. I’ve stopped judging people based on their race; now I try to get to know them as individuals.

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(NYC-1995-12-08)



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